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In 2017, the United Kingdom Airprox Board (UKAB) reported 92 near misses between aircraft and drones, which is a figure that has nearly tripled since 2015. Although many countries have implemented strict regulations on minimum distance requirements that must be maintained between drones and airport flight paths, there remains an imminent fear of collisions.
In addition to requiring that all drone pilots are registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the United States has created two distinct laws that are applied to all drone pilots. These laws include the Small UAS Rule, which requires all drone pilots to obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA, and the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, which is a rule that is only applicable for drone pilots who utilize their drones for recreational purposes. The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) also requires that all drone pilots preemptively contact nearby airport and control towers before operating their drones within a five-mile radius of an airport or heliport location.
Within the European Union, a series of common laws have been established by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) that apply to all drones being operated within this region. In terms of safety references, the EASA regulations require that all drone pilots are registered before operating their drone. Under this newly introduced legislation, each member of the European Union is responsible for creating their own ‘no-fly zones’ to protect facilities that are particularly sensitive to potential disruption by these aircraft.
The Potentially Devastating Effects of Drone and Airplane Collisions
To demonstrate the potentially devastating effects that can occur during a collision between an unmanned air vehicle (UAV) and an airplane, researchers have designed several theoretical collisions. These collisions have been used to evaluate what will occur if a drone collides with an airplane’s nose or cone, gets sucked into the engine or collides with an airplane wing.
Drones vs. Jet Engine
Javid Bayandor of Virginia Tech University has conducted a series of collision simulations in order to effectively compare the effects of an airplane’s engine engulfing drones of various sizes. Furthermore, Bayondor’s group was also interested in determining whether this specific type of collision between a drone and airplane engine could be more devastating than a collision between an airborne animal, such as a goose.
Small drones would generally be chopped into very small pieces upon entrance into an airplane’s engine; however, advancements in drone technology have allowed for newer UAV models to increase in size, thereby also increasing their ability to cause dangerous effects upon collision with an airplane.
To effectively compare the effects of an airplane collision with a drone to that of an airborne animal, it is imperative to differentiate the materials that make up these two distinct objects. Airborne animals like geese, for example, are comprised of soft tissues and muscles that are much less dense and stiff as compared to the material that will often be used to construct a drone. As a result of these comparable material qualities, drones can cause immediate damage upon entrance into a jet engine in several different forms.
Drones vs. Airplane Wing
To simulate what a collision between a drone and an airplane wing would result in, researchers from the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio used a cannon to fire a standard recreational drone towards an airplane wing. While the drone was destroyed by the end of the simulation, the pieces of the UAV that remained were found to cause a significant amount of damage to the airplane wing. The results of this simulation indicated that the drone was capable of causing damage that penetrated deeper into the wing than that which was caused by a previous simulation between an airborne animal and an airplane wing.
How to Prevent Drone Interference
With the aforementioned information in mind, it is clear that any type of collision between a drone and an airplane can, at the very least, alter the efficiency of this mode of transportation, and at the most cause a disaster to unfold.
In the interest of preserving the safety of all individuals that could potentially be affected by a collision between an airplane and a drone, regulatory agencies around the world have already taken the necessary steps to limit this event from occurring. In addition to the laws mentioned at the beginning of this article, deterrence is also being addressed by programs like the Drone Code offered by the Civil Aviation Authority. Other groups, such as the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) are urging that legal repercussions be enforced to offenders of any drone laws to demonstrate the severity of these actions to the public.
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